Axios AM Deep Dive

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August 06, 2022

Welcome to this Deep Dive on Latino voters. Smart Brevity™ count: 1,423 words ... a 5-minute read. Edited by David Nather and Astrid Galván.

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1 big thing: Great Hispanic shift

Illustration of a torn photo of Hispanic man wearing a Biden/Harris face mask overlaying a photo of a "Latinos voten por Trump" banner.
Photo illustration: Lindsey Bailey/Axios. Photos: The Washington Post, NurPhoto/Getty Images

Big divides over issues like inflation and crime — and a growing religious and cultural dissonance with progressives — are eroding Latinos' decades-long loyalty to the Democratic Party, injecting a major wildcard into the 2022 midterms and beyond, Axios' Russell Contreras reports.

Why it matters: Democrats once viewed projected U.S. Latino population growth as their party's ticket to long-term political dominance. But recent elections and midterm polls show the perils in that thinking.

By the numbers: Democrats' generic advantage over Republicans among U.S. Latino adults fell from 16 percentage points to 12 between March and June, according to Ipsos polling for Axios. Other polls have shown more dire scenarios for Democrats, with preferences essentially tied.

  • A New York Times-Siena College poll last month showed a statistically insignificant lead for Democrats in a generic congressional ballot, 41% to 38%. One Wall Street Journal poll earlier this year actually gave generic Republican candidates a 9-point edge.
  • In the 2018 midterms, Democrats held a 47-point edge with Hispanics. Biden's 2020 margin was 21 points.
  • In 2020, President Biden won around two-thirds of Latino voters overall, but densely Latino precincts in Massachusetts, New Jersey, Wisconsin, Nevada, Texas and Florida all shifted toward former President Trump by between 6 and 20 percentage points since 2016.

The big picture: Latino Democrats and political consultants have warned for years that the Democratic Party was taking Latino voters for granted.

  • They've said the party doesn't invest enough in developing Latino candidates, runs condescending voter targeting and focuses on issues that don't resonate with many Hispanics, like banning plastic grocery bags or radically revamping policing.

What's happening: There's evidence that religious Latinos have been shifting from the Catholic Church to evangelical Protestantism, hardening conservative social stances that align more with the GOP.

What they're saying: Jacob Candelaria, a Princeton-educated, openly gay Latino New Mexico state senator, quit the Democratic Party and became an independent last year after Democrats remapped districts in their favor and over what he said was the party moving too far left.

  • "My people don't care about electric vehicles when they can barely afford food," he told Axios.

Read the full story.

2. Mapped: Power of Latino Protestants

Reproduced from PRRI, 2020 Census of American Religion; Map: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

The Latino exodus from Catholicism and toward more politically conservative evangelical faiths is a big reason for the rightward shift that could shape the future of the electorate, reports Marina E. Franco of Noticias Telemundo for Axios Latino.

The percentage of Latinos who identify as Protestant (including evangelicals) is expected to grow from about 25% now to 50% by 2030, researchers say.

  • Evangelicals are more likely to identify as Republicans than Catholics are, according to the 2020 "Census of American Religion," from the Public Religion Research Institute.
  • The percentage of Latinos who identify as Catholic dropped from 57% a decade ago to 47% in 2018 and 2019, according to the Pew Research Center.

🔭 Zoom in: The growing evangelical shift has already helped propel candidates like Mayra Flores, the South Texas Republican who flipped her district in a special election in June and is running again in November.

👀 What to watch: The Rev. Samuel Rodriguez Jr. — who heads the world’s largest Hispanic evangelical organization, the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference (NHCLC) — says Latino Protestants will increasingly ditch the Democratic Party over its social and economic stances.

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3. 📝 Reports from the field: Texas, Florida, Arizona

Photo illustration of Rep. Mayra Flores, between two images, one of a woman holding an American and Venezuelan flag, and another of a border patrol officer.
Photo illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photos: Anna Moneymaker, Alicia Vera/Bloomberg, Eric Thayer for The Washington Post via Getty Images

There's no single reason behind conservative Latinos' growing political clout.

  • Whether it's the desire to protect oil industry and law enforcement jobs in South Texas — or being receptive to anti-socialism messaging in Florida and economic opportunity concerns in Arizona — conservative Latinos are becoming more open to Republican Party appeals in battleground states.

In South Texas, Republicans continue to make gains — notably Flores' victory in the June special election, Nicole Cobler and Asher Price of Axios Austin report.

  • Latino voters in South Texas are unique compared with those in the rest of the state, according to Jason Villalba, a former GOP state lawmaker and CEO of the Texas Hispanic Policy Foundation.
  • Hispanic voters in the region fill a number of oil and gas jobs and work in law enforcement, including in the U.S. Border Patrol — meaning voters there can bristle at Democratic messaging around renewable energy, defunding the police and loosening border security policies.

In Florida, Republicans have tied Democrats to socialism, which provokes fear in many Latin Americans who fled undemocratic regimes, Joshua Scacco, a political communication expert at the University of South Florida, told Selene San Felice of Axios Tampa Bay.

  • Trump recognized Juan Guaidó as the legitimate leader of Venezuela in 2019, a huge moment for Venezuelans in America.
  • "Those particular types of actions and messages are important signals to these communities, whether it's the Cuban, Colombian or Venezuelans, any of those diaspora communities," Scacco told Axios.

In Arizona, Republicans are appealing to Latinos on economic opportunity, gas prices and immigration, Jeremy Duda of Axios Phoenix reports.

  • Robert Garcia, a Phoenix activist and former officer in his legislative district's GOP organization, said Hispanic voters believe the U.S. provided them with opportunities they couldn't have gotten elsewhere — and think the Democratic Party has moved away from those values.

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4. Axios-Ipsos poll: Latino fault lines over immigration, police

Data: Axios/Ipsos; Chart: Nicki Camberg/Axios
Data: Axios/Ipsos; Chart: Nicki Camberg/Axios

A substantial minority of Latino Americans disagree with Democratic policies and messaging on immigration and policing, Axios-Ipsos polling shows.

  • Why it matters: Majorities still support Democratic policies on both issues as well as climate change. But the national survey shows the greatest friction points — with significant differences by age and backgrounds, Axios' David Nather reports.

By the numbers: Just over half of respondents — 51% — said it's more important to help immigrants escape poverty and violence in their home countries and succeed in the U.S., and 43% said it's more important to secure America's borders and help American citizens.

  • On policing, 56% said it's more important to overhaul their practices and protect Black, Latino, Asian and Native Americans from unfair treatment. 40% said it's more important to support the police and use the tactics they think are most effective.

Climate change showed a clearer alignment with Democrats:

  • 60% said it's more important to shift to renewable energy and electric vehicles to minimize the impact of a warming world. 37% said it's more important to protect oil and energy workers' jobs.

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5. Candidates to watch

Photo illustration of Yesli Vega, Monica De La Cruz, Mayra Flores and Cassy Garcia.
Photo illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios. Photos: Nathan Howard, Anna Moneymaker, Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call via Getty Images, Cassy Garcia for Congress and Monica De La Cruz for Congress

Four conservative Latina candidates are raising Republicans' hopes after winning congressional primaries in Texas and Virginia, Axios' Alexi McCammond reports.

  • Now-Rep. Mayra Flores (R-Texas) flipped a Democrat-held seat in South Texas earlier this summer.
  • She — along with fellow Texans Cassy Garcia and Monica De La Cruz, and Yesli Vega in Virginia — are part of a larger trend of Republican Latinas stepping up to run for office this cycle.

Flores will hold her seat until November, when she's up for re-election against Rep. Vicente Gonzalez (D-Texas) in a newly drawn district that's more favorable to Democrats.

  • Garcia and De La Cruz won their primaries in House districts along the Mexican border, where they'll be challenging incumbent Democrats this fall in areas where the GOP previously was not competitive.
  • All three women in Texas have championed conservative positions on abortion, the economy and immigration.

In Virginia, Democratic Rep. Abigail Spanberger will face off against Vega, a Republican county-level executive who helped Gov. Glenn Youngkin with Latino voter outreach during his campaign last year.

Go deeper.

6. Backstory: How Latinos became strong Democrats

Photo illustration of a "Vote Here" sign translated into Spanish and candidate John F. Kennedy with members of the Viva Kennedy leaders in 1960.
Photo illustration: Gabriella Turrisi/Axios. Photo: Dr. Hector P. Garcia Papers, Mary and Jeff Bell Library, Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi

It took Mexican Americans and Puerto Ricans decades to become crucial voting blocs in the U.S., and they did so as strong Democrats for over half a century, Russell writes.

  • Several missteps by Republicans — and a groundbreaking campaign by John F. Kennedy in 1960 — put the majority of Latino voters in the Democratic column for generations. But that history is fading.

The backstory: Returning Latino World War II veterans upset over discrimination back home launched modern-day voting registration drives and organized communities around civil rights.

  • Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower galvanized some of those voters during a 1952 presidential campaign stop in South Texas, but failed to make many Latino appointments.
  • In 1960, Latinos approached Vice President Richard Nixon about starting Viva Nixon clubs to build Mexican American support for his presidential run. Nixon said no — because he didn't want to appeal to ethnic politics.

By contrast, John F. Kennedy accepted a similar offer to build Viva Kennedy clubs and galvanized Mexican American Catholics with his historic 1960 campaign.

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